1. "We have to remove the bullet!"
Despite the harrowing scenes this trope creates, this one drives me absolutely crazy. A character is shot, oftentimes in the abdomen, and ultimately undergoes a painful extraction of the bullet fragment (whenever suits the plot). Sweat drips from the surgeon's face as he pulls it out, usually with the help of some liquor as an antiseptic, the patient screaming or perhaps gritting their teeth stoically. And with a few hours of rest, that same character is ready to go like nothing even happened (though he or she is obligated to wince from time to time just to remind the viewer). As it turns out, you can still bleed to death from a vascular injury (in seconds) or liver laceration (in minutes to hours) or die a horrible painful death from a perforated bowel and sepsis (in hours to days). Taking the bullet out fixes none of this and has a reasonable chance of making things worse. After learning the anatomy and running real-life penetrating traumas, these scenes just demand too much suspension of disbelief.
It's true that we do say "clear" in the emergency department, though perhaps not as often as on ER or House. This inaccuracy lies more in the delivery. First of all, this doesn't happen nearly as often (which is good because it means someone is on the brink of death). And though it's often a tense moment, this phrase is about communication, not drama. More often, you're going to hear something like, "I'm clear, you're clear, everyone's clear," in a measured voice. Charging in with the paddles defeats the purpose, as 'clear' is about keeping everyone else safe from the electrical shock.
3. "We've placed him in an induced coma."
The concept of a coma is tremendously misunderstood, and television shares at least some of the blame. The term is used carelessly and imprecisely (with tragic consequences) for other types of conditions, such as persistent vegetative state and brain death, from which people do not recover. Some people, for example, those with traumatic brain injury (TBI), do recover and eventually "wake up". But sadly many with severe underlying brain injury will never wake up. And this television inaccuracy creates false hope that creates tremendous suffering for patients and families and a huge burden on the healthcare system.
Pretty much everything in the emergency department is stat (especially in comparison with the rest of the hospital) so it's really not necessary to say it out loud, much less shout it. If you tell a seasoned ED nurse that something is STAT, you are guaranteed to get an eye roll as they go back to whatever they were doing. The only folks I know who still say stat without a hint of irony are neurosurgeons, and they are in a class of their own for many reasons. After all, it literally is brain surgery.
5. "He's flatlining! Charging... clear!"
Sorry, this one is just wrong. Delivering an electronic shock via defibrillator is a method of converting someone from a non-perfusing, disorganized rhythm (ventricular tachycardia or ventricular fibrillation) and resetting their heart to a normal sinus rhythm. You cannot shock someone out of asystole or pulseless electrical activity because there is nothing to reset. All you can do is continue CPR, push epinephrine, and think about reversible causes (and cross your fingers). Put the paddles down, doctor. And speaking of which....
6. Those paddles
Maybe this one isn't so much of an inaccuracy as it is outdated. The television show ER was my first introduction into the field of emergency medicine. And, while I definitely didn't mention this in my residency interviews, at least some small percentage of my choice of speciality came directly from watching it. Gosh darn it, I just want to use those paddles one time, is that too much to ask?! But alas, as it turns out its safer and quicker to apply defibrillation through large sticky pads. Less bad ass, unfortunately, but in the end better for our patients and safer for the ED team.
7. Successful Resuscitation
8. Getting McSteamy
I'm sure it does happen from time to time, but certainly not with the frequency portrayed on television. Though emotions can run high in the hospital setting, it is still our office. Plus the stained mattresses of shared call rooms, crowded supply closets and the blood, piss and vomit of the work day aren't exactly aphrodisiacs. That's not to say that relationships don't catch their spark and blossom in the hospital, they certainly do. But the rest is better left for the bedroom, rather than the supply closet.
9. "He's seizing!"
10. Organ donation
Joshua Feblowitz, MD, MS, is currently a PGY4 resident in the BWH/MGH Harvard-Affiliated Emergency Medicine Residency (HAEMR) Program and a freelance science writer.